|Estimated 5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|India – Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura|
|Hmar, Lushai, Paite, Kuki, Zou, Vaiphei, Chin, Mara, English|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Lushai Chin Kuki Mizo Hmar Mara|
Sinlung, sometimes called Chhinlung or Khul, is the ancestral home of the Zohnahthlâk. The Hmars trace their origin to Sinlung. Numerous poems, songs and tales about this place have been made and handed down from generation to generation.
Location and origin
However, the exact location of Sinlung is still open to debate. Several theories and views regarding the origin and location has been put forward, some of which are:
- Sinlung is believed to have been in South West China, possibly in the present Tailing or Silung of Yunan Province of today's China.
- It might have been Sining in central China.
- It might have been derived from the Qin dynasty of 221–207 BC.
- It might have been a derivative of the Chinese king Chieulung who ruled during AD 1711.
- It might have been a cave, and because it was sealed with a huge stone, it was called Sin (seal, close) Lung (stone, rock).
- Sinlung was located at Aopatong in the border of Burma and China. The town was named after the chief Silung during the erection of the Great Wall of China.
- It might be the present Sinlung, located near the Yulung River in Szechuan Province of China.
Although historians differ on the issue of the location of Sinlung and the origin of the name, the fact that they were in Sinlung, however, remains. Sinlung was said to be a city-state where a form of democracy was in existence. While in Sinlung, it was possible that they fought many a war with their neighbouring tribes. Bravery and courage was the greatest virtue and it was here that they started the practice of headhunting.
Hmars leave Sinlung
The Hmars eventually left Sinlung. Theories abound regarding why the Hmars left Sinlung. One view talks of the Hmars leaving Sinlung in search of greener pastures, while another ascribes it to the oppressive rule of the Chinese rulers and the Hmars' inability to repulse their enemies in Sinlung. One of their songs is highly suggestive:
Khaw Sinlung ah
Kawt siel ang ka zuongsuok a;
Mi le nel lo tam a e,
Hriemi hrai a.
Out of city Sinlung
I jumped out like a siel;
Innumerable were the encounters,
With the children of men.
It might be that the Hmars had to 'jump out like a siel' because of the cruelty of the Chinese rulers or because of the famine there. However, the reason why these people left Sinlung has never been clearly told and explained.
When the Hmars left Sinlung, they were probably in one of the successive waves of humanity from China towards the south some 1,000 years ago. Many historians talk mass movements of humanity in waves from China towards the south, into the Mediterranean basin, into India and into other parts of Southeast Asia during the last few thousand years. These people were probably forced out of China by the Ch'in Dynasty who, according to Dr. Edward Thomas Williams, a historian, "violated all the rules of courteous warfare, triumphed and took over the territory and symbols of the rule of the Chou dynasty (their predecessors)". It is believed that the Hmars might have been moving along with one of these waves towards the south, and eventually into India.
Hmar folk tales and songs tell us that the second settlement of the Hmars was in Shan, which was marked by a time of prosperity and peace. Hranglien Songate, a Hmar historian wrote,
"In Shan their civilisation advanced much farther than Sinlung; and the people showed greater intelligence. They knew how to celebrate agricultural prosperity, learned better art of war, and made festival of the victory over the enemy. Furthermore, they learned the use of iron implements and moulding of pipes… This way they came to have the proper means of livelihood."
Many of the Hmar festivals such as Butukhuonglawm (Spring festival), Lunglâk (Autumn festival) and Sesun (Solemn celebration) have their origin in Shan. That they have started the practise of headhunting can be seen from one of their songs:
Ka pa lamtlâk an tha'n dang,
Sinlung lamtlâk a tha'n dang;
Shan khuoah tha povin vang,
Tuoichawngin hranlu an tlunna;
Thlomu sieka kem in hril,
Za inhawngah hranlu bah kan sâl.
My father's steps were distinctively good,
Sinlung's steps were, indeed, distinctively good;
Few are the good men in Shan State,
Where Tuoichawng brought the enemy's head;
You talked of tips with eagle's claws, (meaning war)
And we hang the heads high with ropes
Hmar historians wrote that this period of prosperity and peace in Shan was interrupted by a calamitous famine. As a result, the Hmars had to move further. And from Shan they were believed to have moved towards Kachin land, believed to be in the present Northern Burma, probably in and around Hukwang Valley at the foot of the Eastern Himalayas. This belief is substantiated by the similarity of language between the people of this region and the Hmar language till date. Of Kachin land they sang:
Tiena Kachin lei,
Ka pu leilung Himalawi.
And Himalawi the land of my forefathers.
As Hranglien Songate (HMAR CHANCHIN) suggested, the name Himalaya was originally given by this people. He wrote that, as they came to the foot of the great mountains they decided, "Hi ei hma a tlang hi chu lawi el ei tih", (Let us circumvent this mountain before us). They named this mountain Hihmalawi tlang. Here they met another tribe known to them as the Misimis or Mishmis. According to oral traditions, Sura, one of the forefathers and a well-known character fell in love with a Misimi girl named Thairanchawng and married her during those days. While here, they also came across a river, which they named Airawdung (Ai=crab, raw=burn, dung=valley). This river is believed to be the present Irrawaddy River of Burma.
From Kachin the Hmars are believed to have moved to Kawlphai Khampat in the Kabaw Valley of Burma, probably by moving along the foot of the Patkai Hill Range. Here, they had three Rengs (chiefs) - Luopui, Lersi and Zingthlo- under whom they greatly prospered. Luopui ruled over the central part of the land while Lersi and Zingthlo ruled over the northern and southern parts respectively. While they were in Khampat, Luopui planted the now-famous Banyan tree that still remains traceable. This was mentioned in one of their songs:
Simah Lersi, Hmarah Zingthlo,
Luoipui in lenbung a phun,
Khawthlang puolrangin tlan e.
On the south is Chief Lersi,
On the north, Chief Zingthlo;
At the center, Chief Luopui;
Luopui planted a banyan tree,
The hornbills feed on its fruits.
From Khampat, Chief Lersi was said to move towards the plains of Shan while others moved southward and settled in and around Champhai of today's Mizoram. But why did they leave Khampat? L. Keivom, a Hmar historian wrote,
"Under what circumstances did …(they) leave Khampat and the Kabaw Valley - whether they abandoned it due to famine or in search of greener pastures or were pushed out by a stronger force - have never been clearly told. That they were nostalgic about the place and the fact that they were longing to return to it would suggest that they might have been forced to leave Khampat against their will. It might be that they had to flee the oppressive rule of the more powerful Shan Swabaws (princes)."
Whatever the case was, it is clear that they had to leave Khampat.
From Khampat, it is believed that the Hmars followed the Rûn River (Imphal river) and made settlements on its banks. As they moved southwards, following the Rûn River, they moved along with the Raltes. This was clear from one of their songs:
Rûntui kawi e,
Raltenu le Raltepa leh kan inkawia,
Rûntui kawi e.
We moved along with the Raltes,
From their settlements along the Rûn valley, the Hmars crossed the Lentlâng (A mountain range running from north to south. They are the eastern offshoots of the Himalayas) and settled in Champhai of today's Mizoram. It is believed that this was how the Hmars came to settle in Mizoram. The Hmars were one of the first to inhabit Mizoram, much before the Lushais or the Pawis. While they were in Mizoram, the names of the villages they inhabited were known by the name of the clans inhabiting them, such as Chawnsiem, Ngurte, Sungte, Zote, etc. The Hmars came to occupy not only Mizoram, but also parts of Manipur, Assam and Tripura as well. Hmar tales and songs told us that they were under Chawnhmang, a Rêngpui (something like a maharaja). There were six minor rêngs (territorial chiefs) - Neilal Thiek, Demlukim Hrangkhawl, Tanhril Saivate, Fiengpuilal Biete, Lawipa Hrangchal and Tusing Faihriem under him to help him in administration..
It is said that after several years, the supreme king Chawnhmang migrated to Tipera (Tripura), and since then, Tripura came to be known as 'Rêngpuiram' (land of the Rêngpui) to the Hmars. Before he left, Rêngpui Chawnhmang gave gifts/presents to each of his minor rêngs - a golden plate and a copper pot to Tusing Saivate, gong and horse to Lawipa Hrangchal, pure silver pot to Neilal Thiek, copper plate and copper gong to Fiengpuilal Biete, gong set and tripper horse to fathers of Demlukim Hrangkhawl, and the royal cloth or robe and kebai thi (necklace) to Tanhril Saivate. The copper pot that was given to Tusing Saivate is still in Retzawl village (Haflong, Dima Hasao) with the Buongtes. Therefore the great Rêng of the Hmars left his own people and eventually became a Hindu convert. From there, he continued collecting taxes through his army every year, according to the agreement between him and his minor rengs.
It is said that after Chawnhmang's death, a new Rêng(equivalent to King) took his place. The new Rêng then sent his vai collectors to collect tax. But the Hmars could not understand the language that this army spoke since it was their own people who collected taxes before. When the army reached Champhai, the people shouted,
Vai an hung, vai an hung
Rengpui thal hlawm vai an hung;
An tawng fang ang hawi lova,
Ta puon ang la khawng rei aw.
Vais are coming vais are coming,
Rengpui's arrows (armies), vais are coming;
Their language is unknown to us,
I will strike them like a weaving cloth.
The Rêng's army was attacked (by the women) and their attempt to collect tax was resisted. And the army was sent back. The Rêng then recruited Takam Vais and returned with full force and subdued the minor rengs. Hrangchal rêng, Lawipa and Lungtau rêng Hauhnar were arrested. The Hmars remembered this as Takam Vailien (Takam Vai invasion). The Hmar areas therefore became desolated and were left with no leaders or rêngs. Besides, it is said that the Hmars, during this time, started pahnam indo (inter-clan war), which greatly weakens them. Many of their songs talk of this pahnam indo. the mizos suggests that these paved the way for the emergence of Lushais. The Hmars for these reasons had to flee from Champhai and its adjoining areas. Consequently the Lushais, who were beyond the Tiau River crossed over to Champhai and started raiding the Hmar areas. Hranglien Songate wrote,
"Therefore, the eastern territoriy was left without any chief. This was the first dispersion of the Hmars. As there was a vacuum of power, the Lushais, who were hitherto residing on the eastern side of the river Tiau crossed over and entered the eastern territory. Vanpuia, a Lushai chief killed a hundred siels that the Hmars had left behind and made a great celebration. This was how the Lushais came to the land of the Hmars. Before, the Lushais knew that the areas where the Hmars lived were very fertile, but till then they dared not enter this land. With the invasion of the Takam Vais, and the dispersion of the Hmars, the Hmardom came to an end."
This is believed to be the beginning of the end of 'Hmardom'.